A couple weeks ago I read this article on The Resurgence that talks about how parents can teach their children to "hate church." It makes some good points about how parents can set the tone of their children's process of developing a spiritual hunger by what they say and do regarding spiritual things. For example, the article says that if you want to teach your kids to hate church, then "pray only in front of people," the implication being that children learn that the place for prayer is church and not in one's personal life. Each of the "5 ways to make your kids hate church" pretty much has to do with the differentiation between public and private faith. In other words, our kids will see if we are committed to the faith by how we act in private - not just at church. If they see that our faith is genuine outside the church walls, they are more apt to explore it for themselves. That is, the greater likelihood they will develop a spiritual hunger of their own if they see the parent's spiritual hunger being fed inside and outside the church walls. They are all good points, and I recommend the article.
Today I read this article by a guy who takes on the same topic, except he looks at it more from the church's point of view. Is there anything the church is doing to teach kids to "hate church"? He explores the topic from his own experience as a pastor, and I think he makes some good observations.
First of all, kids don't want to go to church because their parents have shirked their responsibility to insist on what is good for their children. The author of the article points out that parents would never trust their 10 year old child with the decision of choosing what medical doctor to visit. Nor would they entrust the decision of what kind of medicine to consume to a kid. Would an adult allow a young child to make investment choices for a 401k? Certainly not. Yet when it comes to church, parents are all to happy to let their children make the decisions for them. And when a child makes that decision, he or she is making it based on the preferences of a child - not a rational, thinking adult. The kid is going to go for what is fun, not necessarily what he or she needs spiritually.
Certainly the parents bear some of the responsibility in letting their kids take on this authoritative role, but I would expand the blame to include the church in general. This is something we need to be teaching parents, and especially to fathers: you are the God-ordained spiritual authority in your family. You are responsible to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Your children are (in many cases) unregenerate sinners. Consider this as you make decisions about their spiritual rearing.
Secondly, the author of the article implies that our culture, which is driven by pleasure and instant gratification, has trained children to desire what is the most fun, and if it doesn't deliver on their desires, to move on to something that does. This means that when a kid isn't having fun at church, he or she is trained to abandon that which does not satisfy (a particular church) and seek out something that does (a different church that is more fun). David Michael of Children Desiring God gives fabulous presentation about how to reply to people who call up the church office asking if there is anything "fun" at a church for their children to do, and how this is the last thing we need to be worried about when it comes to children's ministry in the church. Too often in churches, a child's enjoyment has become the goal, rather than a means to an end. Do we have fun in Sunday School at Riverview? Yes, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to learn about the glorious deeds of the Lord as recorded in scripture, and one of the ways we do that is by having fun as we learn.
Unfortunately, the church has adopted the culture of entertainment, and instead of desiring to teach about God, their main focus usually is to be more entertaining than the church down the road so as to attract more people. Will it attract more people? Indeed, because that's one of the major elements that people have been trained to look for in a church. Is it good? Absolutely not. Because what is cool and entertaining now, won't be in a couple months. The church that seeks to entertain as a goal will always have to change what they're doing in order to accommodate what the culture has defined as entertaining.
Finally, the church has trained both adults and children that serious theology and worship are for adults - not kids. Nothing could be further from the truth! But aren't kids a bit young to be learning theology? Isn't the realm of theology reserved for scholars and pastors, and maybe smart adults? No! All Christians - from the most learned scholar to the most humble layman - engage theology on a regular, every day basis. You may not realize it, but as a believer, every decision you make, deed you perform, word you say, and thought you think, is based upon your knowledge of who God is and what God is like. The goal of ministry to children in the church is to get them to think theologically - to encourage them to ask the questions "Who is God?" and "What is God like?" As they ponder these, they will then begin to ask, "How should I act toward God?" This is learning theology, and it's not just for adults. Any curriculum or Christian education that does not begin and end with theology is flawed. It's time for the church to realize this reality and factor it into its ministry.
The author of the article concludes with a poignant point that we have trained children (and adults, for that matter) "to evaluate life the same way they would a theme park." Are we really that surprised that so many kids are walking away from the church when they leave high school? Why would we be?